I remember the first object of my Sabres scorn almost as clearly as I remember my first girlfriend. History tells us that Lawrence Morely Hillman played for 15 different teams and won six Stanley Cups over the course of a 22 year career, but I remember Larry Hillman as the slowest skater I have ever seen in a Buffalo Sabres uniform.
In the era of touch icing, watching Hillman skate from the attacking zone all the way back to his own end to get to the puck first was like watching The Little Engine That Could slowly chug his way up Whiteface Mountain. Even through my television screen at home, I swear I could hear The Big Engine Who Couldn’t sputtering and wheezing as he trudged his way back across his own blue line. My brother used to insist that he could eat a Barnbuster and an order of fries from the Red Barn in the time it took Larry Hillman to skate the length of the ice.
As much as I loved rooting for the Island of Misfit Toys that was the Buffalo Sabres in the early 1970’s, I reveled in heckling and taunting Larry Hillman from the comfort of my home. In my defense, I was 8 years old and searching for ways to entertain myself during long, cold Buffalo winters.
I have no defense for my behavior over the next 42 years. After Hillman left the Sabres in 1973, he was replaced by a long line of personal Sabres scapegoats that would include Gerry Meehan, Paul Cyr, Ray Sheppard, Brad May, Chris Gratton, Derek Roy, Darcy Regier and Mike Weber. At one time or another, all of these men have assumed the role of the Guy We Have To Get Rid Of! in my life. Past history and a sizable team of psychiatrists indicate that I am incapable of cheering for my beloved hockey team unless I’m cheering against at least one player on the roster.
This season, my scapegoat du jour is almost always Zach Bogosian. The Man Who Goes By Bogo is known by many other nicknames here in the Hirschbeck household. He is the Giver of Turnovers, the Eater of Cap Space, the Happy Wanderer, or just DJ Bogo (a nod to this interesting Beyond Blue and Gold episode). Sadly, my obsession with DJ Bogo appears to have no limits. I bellow insults at the TV even when he is injured and out of the line-up (which is often); I enter into a depression if T McGee hasn't traded Bogosian in one his GM fanposts here on DBTB (the best part of our site, in my opinion); I look at my 25 year old son, Zac, and wonder if it’s too late to change his name to another moniker that doesn’t have the stink of a pitiful Corsi attached to it (Risto Hirschbeck sounds perfect, doesn’t it?).
I take no pride in speaking of this aloud. My relationship to Larry Hillman and all those who followed in his footsteps reveals the worst part of me. I’m the sophomoric teenager who takes a little too much pleasure in mocking those that don’t agree with me. I’m the 35 year old man who is far more interested in bleating out my own opinions than listening to yours. I’m the 52 year old guy who believes things aren’t truly right in the world unless I can point to something that is wrong in the world.
When I think about the Buffalo Sabres, I’m often preoccupied with changes. Who should be added to the roster? Who should be traded as soon as possible? It never occurred to me until now that there are changes I can make to myself that might increase my level of enjoyment in watching a Sabres game.
At the top of that list is abolishing all scapegoats associated with my hockey fandom. No more childish nicknames, no more yelling insults at my television, and no more thinking that all my team’s problems will miraculously vaporize after they just get rid of one guy. I’ll try to view Larry Hillman more as a guy who won six Stanley Cups than a guy who skated like he just had double hip replacement surgery. I’ll focus a little less on Zach Bogosian’s puck awareness in the defensive zone and a little more on his desire to raise money for cancer research and support services in memory of his late grandmother.
I’m not sure if these changes will make watching hockey more fun, but they’ll definitely make the experience more healthy.
Who are your most memorable Sabres scapegoats over the years? Is there any part of your experience as a Sabres fan that you’d characterize as unhealthy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.